Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Can Fighting Make You a Wiser Person?

I've written in a few previous posts that I was working out at a local Krav Maga school.

What I didn't write was that I had taken the sparring classes there. They hold them every few months. I've had my ass handed to me multiple times. I've also given a few people a rude awakening with my hands and feet.

With a school like this, even though it ain't so big, you get beat, and you get to beat others sometimes. Law of averages.

A few weeks back the instructor was giving his shtick on the initial shots you hurl out at an opponent. Don't expect them to connect. You are just using them to test out their responses, see how they react. Once you understand how they react to your attacks, THEN you figure out how you will attack them more seriously. No cookie cutter combos. No brilliant plans you set up beforehand. You improvise as you go along.

It made me think about previous attempts to do the fighting arts 20 years back in college, and also the general approach to life that my relatives (and other would be role models and finger wagglers) tried to instill in me.

Years back, being overly influenced by Van Damme and Steven Seagal movies, I expected/wanted, martial arts to make me an invincible killing machine -- bad guys don't touch me, but I connect and kick the shit out of the other guy with every shot.

Reality is much more sloppy. The other guy will connect. You will get hurt. You will bleed. The key is to get more shots on them than they can on you.

And as for the general approach to life others tried to instill in me?

The approach could only be described in two sentences;

-Get it right the first time, or don't do it at all.
-Do it elegantly, with class and style.

Over the span of multiple sparring sessions, its become apparent that you have to allow yourself to screw up a few times, to have attacks that went to crap, so you can learn from them, and figure out new and better ways to do it next time.

Moreover, Krav Maga is anything but elegant. There are no beautiful kata or forms like you see in karate & kung fu, no fancy high kicks like Tae Kwon Do. Like boxing, Western wrestling, and to some degree kickboxing, its simple, effective, but ugly.

It made me think back to episodes during the past 15 years in my personal and professional life. Without going into too much detail -- things never worked out whenever I sought out the bling/brilliant goal, the elegant way of approaching/solving a problem, or the perfect no trade off's solution to things. I often achieved my goals after taking unusual approaches that made no sense to friends/relatives -- largely because they involved trade-offs they would never make in terms of time, energy, and the potential loss of face (where the whole elegance thing comes into play).

In life, as in fighting, the ultimate solutions are the product of initial screw ups, improvisation, and being focused on the most efficient way to solve the problem -- not the most elegant.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Been Violated...

Had the two most expensive pieces of athletic equipment stolen from me during the past week;

My bike: An early 1990's Specialized Allez Epic Carbon Fiber frame
My wetsuit: A Quintano Roo wetsuit I got as a closeout item from Lombardy Sports 4 years ago.

In both cases some scumbag/scumbags who crawled into our buildings garage most likely took them. A week back, the only time in 9 months I did this, I only secured my bike with a steel cable, using the u-lock I share with my wife to secure her bike frame, and not mine. The scumbags cut the cable --- judging by the clean cut, probably some bolt cutters.

The wetsuit (and a pair of swimming jammers) I left to dry on the landing of the staircase leading up to our floor of the apartment -- which is the top floor of a multi-story building. The only way to access that staircase without a key is through the garage -- and the thief/thieves probably went up and down prowling those stairs looking for something to steal or some way to bust in.

How do I know it was through the garage? Because thats where we've had the most problems. Another tenant in the building called the cops one afternoon when a pair of homeless people snuck into our building garage and did the hunka chunka on top of the landlord's Land Rover. Our garage just ain't secure.

If you calculate the loss dollar-wise, its not that bad. Replacing them won't cost me that much. Both items were also very old and had issues. The bike dated from the early 1990's. The wetsuit had an unfortunate problem of the zipper bursting while I was swimming in it -- leading to very embarassing and frustrating wardrobe malfunctions in the middle of Aquatic Park.

But both items (for all their flaws) had sentimental value. I was very proud to show up at triathlons, centuries, and various training rides, on a bicycle that was almost 20 years old, with technology so antiquated many couldn't figure out. The downtube shifters got many odd stares. I was even more proud when I smoked people using much newer technology. And lastly -- the Specialized brought me BACK into road cycling after a hiatus of almost 16 years. It was the bike that helped me rediscover the beauty of the open road, and allowed me to take on challenges that I didn't dare dream of taking on during my previous period of cycling -- when I was younger, skinnier, and still in my late teens.

The wetsuit -- yeah it was a cheap piece of crap. Yes I had wardrobe malfunctions with it as my girth expanded. But it got me into open water swimming. Without the suit I would never have known about the sub-culture of both triathlon and open water swimming here in the Bay Area.

Then there is the safety issue. I hate knowing that that some asshole/assholes are crawling around our building, looking for easy targets to pounce on. Being a father now, with a wife still recovering from giving birth, and an infant daughter, I'm tempted to either stay up all night stalking the halls of my building with a baseball bat to hunt the bastards down. Or maybe get all geeky and set up some wireless cameras connected to a laptop to record the comings and goings in the building THEN go stalking the hallway with a baseball bat after ID'ing the perps.

This being San Francisco of course, with its excessively PC attitude towards homeless people/junkies/petty criminals, my act of self-defense would make ME the bad guy. And because I have a decent job and income -- I become the bastard for not "sharing my wealth" with the unfortunate (and undeserving) unwashed mass.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What the Acupuncturist Told Me

"Use this stuff on your heel. Chinese martial artists use it all the time, it makes bruises disappear overnight."

"And by the way, its flammable."

So basically I'm putting gasoline on my skin.

Should have asked him, "Do I look like f#$%-ing Kwai Chang Cain to you!"

This sh#$ better work!


What the Doctor Told Me

Well... looks like I won't be running in the VFF's again for a long time.

A week after the Half Marathon that destroyed my VFF Sprints, I did a two hour back to back series of workouts at the Krav Maga school. The burpees, mountain climber tabatas, and kettle bell workout, afterwards my left achilles was killing me.

Three weeks later, after dealing with a nagging pain in my left achilles that didn't go away after laying off long miles in the VFF, I went to the Orthopedist. His shtick;

- I had an inflammation of the sheath that wraps around the lowest point of the achilles, right where it connects to the heel bone.

- The causes of my injury (in his order of precedence) where forefoot/midfoot striking, using the VFF's, and excessive mileage.

- I'm a dyed in the wool heel striker who went from one extreme (bulletproof motion control shoes) to the other extreme (virtual barefoot running) in a very short time.

- My goal, a half marathon, was excessive given the context.

- I have a Haglunds Deformity AKA bone spur on my heel, which means anytime my achilles gets activated (like when I run forefoot/midfoot), it will rub abrasively against my achilles tendon.

His recommendation -- lay off running for another month, do easy spinning on a bike, or swim. When I get start running again, ease off on the VFF's. Use a mixture of running shoes, and a mixture of running styles (both forefoot & heel strike?).

I don't plan on giving up forefoot running. But my VFF saga is pretty much over now. At this point I need to find a light show that I can forefoot/midfoot in without destroying my achilles.

Should I just swallow my pride and buy a pair of Nike Free's?

The horror....

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Final Thoughts on the VFF

This will be my last post on the VFF.

Its taken up a little bit too much space on this blog for the past 6 months.

The experiences of the past several months have shown me that the VFF is a great training shoe, and an excellent way to shift into a mid/forefoot strike running style. On the off-road Half Marathon, and the long training runs at the end of the training cycle (9-11 mile long runs in the city), both my legs and lungs felt less pulverized than they had ever been during my experiences running those same distances in motion control shoes.

But I DO NOT plan on using the VFF again for distances longer than 6-7 miles, or as my race day shoes.

For me the early problems I had with the VFF's, specifically calf pain, disappeared eventually. But my feet never got used to the impact -- especially as I got into the higher distances (9-11 mile training runs). What would happen on the longer runs is that I'd have plenty of energy left everywhere else, but my feet would be so sore from the constant pounding that couldn't put the hammer down.

This doesn't mean I'm going back to my ASICS Motion Controls -- anything but that. I have no desire at this point to going back to heel striking, and I'm not going to spend money on shoes that would bring me back to that form of running.

What this does mean is that I'll probably use the VFF's for shorter runs, intervals, hill workouts, stair climbing, etc. Doing these shorter runs that are built around drills & specific workout routines will help preserve the forefoot/mid-foot running style I've developed since January. I'll probably buy a more conventional running shoe, but with a flatter and thinner bottom than motion control shoes, maybe a pair of racing flats, for longer runs, or race days. The regular running shoes (hopefully) would shield my feet from the repeated pounding I got from the VFF's, but would still let me run with a fore/midfoot strike -- preserving my knees, hips, quads, and lungs.

In the end, its not running in bare feet (what the VFF tries to simulate) that is better for you, its running with a mid/forefoot strike. The VFF is a means to achieving that end -- not an end in and of itself.


When I checked my VFF's this morning, I finally saw the damage the last run did to them.

Those yellow spots you see towards the edge of the soles are where the outermost layer of rubber has worn out. Before the trail run there was only one yellow spot. Afterwards there were two.

This hole is where the rubber wore all the way through. It wasn't like this before the trail run.

LESSON: Never use the VFF Sprint on city streets, trail runs, or any substantial outdoor workout.

I Did It...But I'm Not Doing It Ever Again...

Yesterday I finally did what I had been planning to do for the past six months -- do a Half Marathon in a pair of VFF's. So I headed down to Pacifica to do a Half Marathon trail run in San Pedro Valley County Park.

The event itself was great -- good organization, wonderful views, tough and very technical course on a single track trail.


I ran in my Sprints. It was a BAD idea. The Sprints (despite Vibram corporation marketing them as the running shoe of the VFF family) is a bit too flimsy even for city running. On a trail they are even worse. They bottoms are way too thin. What this means is that anytime I stepped on a sharp rock or an acorn it would stab into the bottom of my feet. There is also very little tread on them -- so its hard to get a grip on stone surfaces.

The weaknesses of the Sprints weren't so much a problem going up hill. Going up a long hill while trail running you either jog very slowly or walk -- no point killing yourself. So heading up the first nasty hill, I was passing people here and there. But after cresting the hill, that's when the problems occurred.

When trail running you make up the time you lost walking uphill by running balls out on the downhill. You blast your way down hill at the fastest possible speed you can go without falling flat on your face. This involves landing your feet at high speed on jagged rocks, roots, rocky surfaces, and other forms of nastiness.

On the downhill sections I couldn't do this with my VFF's. It was way too painful and too dangerous. A few times I nearly slipped and tripped. In all the rocky sections I had to walk (REPEAT - WALK not RUN) down very slowly and carefully. Just walking down was killing my feet -- if I had gone down as fast as I would have in regular running shoes my feet (and my VFF's) would have been destroyed.

Too add insult to injury -- people whom I had passed going up the hill were now blasting past me on the downhill. It was a kind of nasty poetic justice.

At the end of the day I finished 45 minutes slower than my previous time doing a Half Marathon trail run back in December up in Marin. I attribute all of this to not being able to attack the downhills.

Would this have been different if I had a tougher pair of VFF's like the KSO or the Bikila -- doubt it. While the other Vibrams do have thicker soles, its not clear that they'd be thick enough to insulate the bottom of my feet from all the nasty sharp edges on the trail. Also -- if my feet are slamemed down at high speed against a sharp edges repeatedly over the span of 13 miles, it would have eventually chewed up my feet.

Ironically -- everything else was fine. While walking uphill around mile 10, a fellow runner told me that listening to my breathing I didn't sound all that tired. While my legs are very sore and tired today, my knees and hips for the most part don't have that feeling of being completely pulverized -- just exhausted. Also my calves -- the part that usually gives out during the early days of VFF running, were fine. I'm writing this 24 hours after the run, and there is no calf soreness.

All this feeds into my final overall shtick on the VFF in my next post.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

He Stole My Quote!!!

Came across this article in the SF Chronicle the other day.

They quote a guy named Hank Pellissier, who says running barefoot is like unprotected sex.

Its the same damn thing I said on my post from March 5th!

Echhh...the whole world is going to think barefoot runners & vibram wearers hate condoms.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Goodbye KSO's

You served me well. May you challenge someone else now.

Monday, May 3, 2010


My VFF Sprints finally came today. Here they are, brand new and unscathed, next to my smelly, chewed up, KSO's.

The KSO's were my introduction to the world of the VFF. But as time went by, the limitations of the KSO have become apparent. The stitches that bind the uppers together aren't that strong. The first big tear occurred two months after I purchased them when planted my foot sideways against a curb, stretching then ripping the upper. The mesh is supposed to be breathable. But it wasn't breathable enough so that my feet wouldn't stink up the insides. The dusty white material you see here and there is the foot powder I was using during the final weeks to kill the stench and to prevent the shoes from giving me athletes foot.

Hopefully the Sprints will be more durable and less stinky. It has fewer stitched areas, so less opportunities for ripping. The big open area in the center should ventilate the shoes.

All that being said, the KSO's are (for me at least) the archetypal VFF. Whenever I bumped into another VFF wearer, they were wearing a KSO's. Also, because the black material contrasted so strongly with my pale ankles, they attracted a lot of notice from people on the street, passengers in cars passing by, and fellow students at my Krav Maga school. I essentially became a walking advertisement for the entire VFF line.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How Far Will You Go for a Set of Vibrams

The popularity of the VFF has gotten out of hand I think.

You go around the handful of local stores in the SF Bay Area, find out that many models and sizes have completely sold out. The salespeople who don't wear them state (in incredulous tones) that they can't keep them on the shelves.

The episode that hit home just how low the supply has gotten, and how badly people want these shoes, happened this past weekend. I sent to one of the three stores in the City of San Francisco that carry the VFF to get a replacement for my KSO's (the ones I've trashed and stunk up for the past 9 months). Across from me sat a woman with one hand talking on her cell phone, and one hand slipping on various pairs of shoes.

I had assumed wrongly that she was just trying on various women's casual shoes. But then she overhead my discussion with the saleslady regarding sizes & models of VFF (Classic vs. Sprint, vs. KSO, Size 41 vs. 43 vs. 44), and asked me about what size VFF her friend should wear. She revealed that she was talking over the phone with a friend in England, a male, about what size VFF he should wear. I looked at her feet, she had several models of VFF lying around her.

When the saleslady went to take care of another matter, I spoke with her in more detail with the young lady inquiring about the Vibrams. Turned out that her friend in England;

- Asked her to buy them on his behalf;
- Had a recent running injury to his calves;
- Couldn't decide between the size 41, 42, 43, or 44, because of the incompatibility of the sizing systems.

To place this all in perspective, this is like having your wife/girlfriend asking a friend in Italy to buy a pair of Manolo Blahniks/Jimmy Choos, forking out the $400-500 up front without even trying them on or seeing them in person. Never happen, right? Your wife/girlfriend would more likely just get on an airplane and turn the shoe shopping expedition into a trip to Italy. Because your shoe fetishizing wife/girlfriend understands that she need to see it up close and put it on her feet before coughing out the dough -- or otherwise suffer an awful case of buyers regret.

As much as I like the VFF's (I purchased my replacement pair online directly from Vibram USA) there is no getting around the fact that the VFF is no longer an athletic shoe but a cultural fad. People are shoving their usual logic and judgement regarding shoes aside, and forking out $$ to purchase the VFF for reasons that have nothing to do with athletics & ergonomics, but everything to do with wanting to be part of an up and coming trend.

Adding to the stew is the presence of VFF knock-off's.

I predict over the next 12 months there will be a shakedown. Most of the people buying the VFF will get rid of them when they realize how hard the transition is from regular running shoes to the VFF. After the 12 months are over, however, we'll all figure out;

- The best ways to get used to the VFF, through thousands of people venting about sore calves and aching feet.

- The sports that you can use the VFF effectively (martial arts, running, calisthenics, yoga), and the sports you should not (cycling).

- Which one of the VFF clones is a viable alternative. There is no way Vibram can dominate this market indefinitely -- especially since the fundamental design of the VFF is so simple.

Lets see how this shakes out.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The First Big VFF Test

I ran my first footrace wearing the VFF's this past Sunday.

It was the 10K portion of the Presidio 10 Race.

The race was a lesson in both what the potential of the VFF is, and the fact I still need more time (and running miles) to get used to these shoes.

Potential: During my fastest segments I was running as fast as I would have in my regular running shoes. The difference was that I felt lighter. Less heavy breathing. Also felt less like I was having to throw my whole body into it.

But I'm still not completely used to running in these things.

I no longer heel strike, which takes a huge load off my knees and hips. But my calves still aren't used to working this kind of distance at higher speeds. My previous runs (with the exception of an interval workout a few days earlier) all had been done at slower speed. Sometime just past the 4 mile mark my right calf started getting very stiff. Just after I got off the Golden Gate Bridge and back into San Francisco, I had to stop and stretch.

The next mile afterwards was a struggle. Normally a downhill at the end of the race would be an opportunity to floor it. In my case, I had to slow down due to the stiffness in my calf. It wasn't until the last half to 3/4 mile, when the course went into the sandy path along the Crissy Field shoreline, that I was able to speed up again. I suspect the sandy surface was easier on my calves.

Still, I can't complain too much. My time was faster than I expected it would be. Throughout the race, even at the very end when my calves were shot, I was passing people with regular running shoes. It was thrilling knowing that me, with my flimsy ass ninja shoes, was able to pass all these other people with thick soled running shoes. Part of me wonders whether or not some of the people I passed looked at me, my feet, and thought "WTF!"

But for now -- I go back to the drawing board. Long slow runs, intervals, and some tempo runs to get used to running at extended periods at higher speeds. Maybe what I need now isn't so much an increase in my max distance but an increase in my weekly miles instead.

See how the next road race goes.

Friday, March 5, 2010

VFF -- I've Joined the Cult

At this point, I think I can say I'm a convert to the Cult of the Vibram Five Finger.

I had posted previously that I had switched off running back & forth between my VFF's and my usual running shoes -- a pair of Asics Motion Control shoes with a sole insert. Last weekend, I got to the point where I didn't switch from the VFF to the ASICS at mid run. I did a full run with just the VFF.

Note -- anyone reading this who is interested in using VFF as their full time running shoe should still proceed with caution. My approach may not work for others.

My goal had been to do a 3 mile run in the VFF's. Three miles is my minimum running distance in any one session. My interval workouts are based off this distance. It serves as my recovery run distance during periods I trained for either half marathons and other longer trail runs. It also the base training run I start from when I do longer runs, adding additional miles to my 3 mile run till I get close the target distance.

My assumption had been that I would, starting from a base distance of 1.5 miles in VFF's, add half a mile to my runs each week. From the time I started in mid February this would bring me up to 3 miles a session sometime in mid-March.

Last weekend I decided, on a whim, to push the envelope. Two weeks back I had injured my left calf during a conditioning workout. I was wearing my VFF's. While doing a short jog down the street, I heard an odd ripping sound, then felt a combination of pain and muscle spasms in the back of my left calf. Then the pain began, and I had to slow down for the rest of the workout session.

I laid off of running in the VFF's for a week. I still did my regular Krav workouts. My calf hurt, but improved slowly over the week. By Saturday I felt good enough to do a run around my neighborhood. My original plan was to do 1.5 miles miles in my ASIC's then 1.5 miles in my VFF. Interestingly, when I ran with my ASICS my left calf hurt like crazy. I barely ran two blocks before it became so stiff I couldn't run properly. I turned around, went home, and went to a Krav workout instead.

Afterwards, just for kicks, I decided to run 1.5 miles in the VFF's. The Krav workout did not aggravate my calf problem at all. If anything it felt a little better.

What happened when I ran with the VFF's? Nothing. I ran up the hills towards Pacific Heights, making sure to land flat footed instead of on my toes. There was some tightening around my calves, but nothing on the level of that morning's attempted run with my ASICS. I was expecting massive pain and stiffness, but my calves felt no worse than they did after the Krav workout earlier in the day.

I expected the next morning to be excruciatingly sore in my calves. Oddly enough, my calves felt fine. I had mapped out on the previous night a pair of running routes: 2 miles if my calves screamed in pain from the VFF, 3 miles if they felt OK. I assumed I'd only be able to do the 2 mile run.

I was wrong -- miracle of miracles -- while my calves tightened up at times, they didn't tighten to the point I couldn't run anymore. Around the 1 mile mark, standing on top of Russian Hill, I decided to go the extra half mile down towards Fisherman's Wharf then turn for home, putting in a 3 mile run in total. I was sore afterwards -- but not terribly so.

This past Wednesday I decided to add a little mileage. I decided to do a 3.5 mile run in the local hills in my VFF's, see how much my feet could handle. As before, I had to run flat footed to avoid overstressing my calves. Towards the end, my feet did feel uncomfortable, but not so uncomfortable I couldn't run.

Next morning -- calf soreness when I got up, but not through the rest of the day.

At this point I'm going to get rid of the ASICS and just use my VFF's as my standard running shoe. My calves have hardeded up to the point that while they are still sore after a run, they are no more sore than the rest of my legs & butt would be if I was running in my ASICS.

Some lessons to draw from the experiences of the past several months with the VFF.

A. Use the VFF for other physical activities and workouts. It helps condition the ankles and feet. In addition, the other activities you do in them, even if they are low impact, will condition your ankles and feet to doing hard work. In my case, the mountain climber tabata's in my conditioning classes probably hardened up my calves to the point where running in VFF's was no longer that hard.

B. Pretend you just began running for the first time. If you are a regular and experienced runner you won't be able to immediately do the same mileage in the VFF's as you would your old running shoes. So pretend you are starting over again. Use the same mileage & frequency of workouts you did when you began running years back, but do it in your VFF's, and build up the mileage, frequency, and intensity.

C. Experiment with different increases in mileage. Different people will adapt to the VFF differently. I had read elsewhere that you should only add on 5 minutes per run each week when using the VFF, and not to do back to back days running in the VFF. Last weekend I went from 1.5 miles to 3 miles on back to back days. Also, your ability to adapt to the VFF will vary depending on what other workouts you are doing at the same time. The increase from 1.5 miles to 3 miles in one weekend was doable two weeks ago, but not doable in July 2009 when I first got the shoes. In retrospect, the last three months of using VFF's for Krav Maga classes helped tremendously.

D. Don't try to change your running style before getting the VFF, get the VFF and change your running style. Something I did last Summer to help transition into the VFF was attempting to convert to running with a forefoot/midfoot strike in my ASICS, THEN moving into the VFF. In retrospect it was a terrible mistake. Running forefoot/midfoot with the ASICS was a horribly painful experience. The calf pain I endured during the period was exponentially worse than anything I've felt running with the VFF. I don't have a scientific explanation for why this is so. Maybe it was the 3 months of using VFF's for other workouts. I personally suspect that the ASICS are just designed to be used for heel strike running, NOT forefoot/midfoot striking.

E. Run on hills with the VFF. In the past few weeks I've found that running uphill in VFF's was more comfortable than running on flat roads. The impact on the feet and calves going uphill wasn't nearly as bad as running on the flats and downhills. The uphill running became a way of transitioning into the VFF, getting my feet and ankles used to the impact of running.

I won't claim (at least at this early stage) that the VFF reduces running injuries. Also, the issues with my legs that brought me to the VFF's (runners knee, stiffness in various joints) were ultimately addressed through stretching exercises on my hamstrings, glutes, and quads.

But I will say this -- running in the VFF is a lot more fun than running in my ASIC's. The easiest way to compare the two;

- The VFF: Wild kinky sex without a condom
- ASICS: Sex with three condoms, and a spermicide.

'Nuff said.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Vibram Five Finger Vs. Asics Motion Control Shoes

Those who have read my postings on the Vibram Five Finger shoes have noted my conflicted views on the product.

Today I had an experience which, unexpectedly, pushed me a little more on the side of a VFF supporter.

Before I move on, I need to add a little context. On Thursday I did a sparring class at the Krav school. A fellow student who way outclassed me round kicked my thigh really hard. It hurt then, and hurts even more now two days later. Every time I kneel down, my left thigh begs for mercy.

I went to a Conditioning workout at the Krav school. My instructor has gotten into the habit of making us run a 1/4 mile in the streets around the school several times during the one hour workout. I noticed today after the fifth time around that my feet and calves felt fine. Granted, the dozens of burpees, multiple tabata drills, and box jumps, sucked a#$. But as we ran through a dirty alleyway in the Tenderloin multiple times, my feet and ankles felt OK. The asphalt & concrete didn't kill my feet and calves the way I had expected it to.

I had to squeeze a run in later today. Since I felt fine jogging in VFF's during the Conditioning class, I decided to see if I could run regularly with them. So I split the workout in half. I would run the first mile and a half with the VFF. I'd finish at home, switch into regular running shoes, and run back out for another mile and half with my regular running shoes; Asics motion Control shoes with an off-the-shelf sole insert.

As expected, I had to be careful running with the VFF's, and had to take it slow. The asphalt and concrete were hard on my calves and feet. But it was not as severe as last summer during my failed experiment with forefoot running. I finished my mile and a half, got home, swapped shoes.

THAT was when the pain began.

To my shock and surprise, the very spot on my thigh where two days before I had taken a nasty round kick began to hurt every time my foot struck the ground. From what I can tell, striking with my heel in my Asics activated the very same muscles in my thigh that were still traumatized by that kick I took a few days ago.

Running in the VFF's, however, I didn't notice my injured thigh. Maybe I was fixating on landing properly with my forefoot. But more likely, my calves were taking the bulk of the impact when I was running with the VFF's, sparing my thigh muscles the pounding they would have gotten if I had worn my Asics for the whole run.

So what happens now?

It's a risk, and I'm going to have scale back any big ambitious running plans during the next few months, but I think I'm ready now to try and use the VFF's as a regular running shoe. The mile and a half I did today went alright. Maybe my feet & calves can handle two miles tomorrow, three miles next week.

Now if only they made a VFF KSO that wouldn't rip at the seams.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Feedback on the Vibram Five Finger


It seems that the VFF is the kind of shoe that evokes intense passions. The post from earlier this month had the most views of any posting I had done on this blog, and the most feedback -- mostly from passionate VFF owners defending the honor of their shoes!

It also got re-posted on the big one-stop VFF blog;

Interesting thing about that referral. The Birthdayshoes blogger only clipped the positive section of my post, not the more critical parts.

I probably sounded negative in my review earlier in the month. In my own defense -- I do like these shoes, and still wear them regularly.

But the passion these shoes invokes -- its making me think back to the discussions at UCSF Runsafe regarding barefoot running, Chi Running, forefoot vs. heel striking. The doctors at UCSF (wisely) advised caution to anyone pondering shifting running styles -- and the same applies when using the VFF. The blogs and books don't really capture & explain just how much of a drastic transition it is going from a pair of regular running shoes (or in my case motion control running shoes) to the VFF. Passionate defenders of the VFF may have legitimate reasons for loving the VFF -- but they don't do themselves any favors by ignoring or minimizing the difficulties of transitioning to the VFF.

A post-script to ponder. After one of my krav classes, another student came up to me and asked how I liked the shoes. While he wore regular running shoes for the krav class, he told me he ran in VFF's, and loved using them for running. He said he was doing as much as 10 miles on the streets of San Francisco in them. I asked him how long it took to transition to that point. His reply;

"Four to five months."

Food for thought. In the long run, the VFF may actually be better for running than a standard running shoe. But the transition to the point where it becomes a regular running shoe -- there is not enough discussion about how to get to that point, and how to manage the inevitable discomforts and hurdles.

There needs to be less discussion about the VFF being this kind of magic wand that cures all runners ailments, and more discussion of the VFF as a tool that facilitates a long (difficult) transition into barefoot running -- which running in the VFF essentially is.

In the meantime -- if I recommend the VFF to anyone right now, I'd recommend it to anyone who has to do conditioning exercises to strengthen their quads\glutes\lower back. Certain exercises, especially squats (with and without weights), are dependent on your heels being flat on the ground in order engage the muscles on the butt and back of the thighs. Running shoes, with those thick heels, prevents you from engaging those muscles.

Even in this case, I add a word of caution. If you are working with weights -- the VFF's have no real top cover on them. You drop barbell/dumbbell on your foot -- you'll pay the consequences.

Why I Will No Longer Complain About Brock Lesnar

Brock Lesnar's last UFC fight was my first exposure to him. Great fighter -- awful human being.

After seeing this interview, however, I felt his pain -- literally.

What he described sounded disturbingly like that mystery illness that hit me in November after the Half Marathon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Memories of My Favorite Fat Cats....

The other night I was catching up on old episodes of Man vs. Food. Came across the episode where Adam Richman visited New Brunswick and Rutgers University, my alma mata.

Brought back a rush of memories and thoughts about my time there, my health & lifestyle while I was living there, and my own place in the history of American food.

It was nice to see that the Grease Trucks were still there on College Ave. I remember when they lined College Ave. When the order came for all of them to circle up in that parking lot nearby the main cluster of frat houses, there was a wail that reverberated throughout the main campus.

Little did anyone know (least of all the University administration) that they were creating something wonderful. Putting all the trucks into a circle ended up concentrating all the drunk and hungry college kids together in one spot. It inadvertently added to the warmth and stupidity of the late night drinking experience.

It was also disturbing to see how everything has been supersized. When I was there, there was only one Fat XXXXXX sandwich. It was the Fat Cat -- the double cheese burger, with bacon, fries, and other fixin's. At the time it was considered to be the most greasy & sinful thing you could eat after several beers -- except for a giro with no veggies, extra meat, and onions.

The fact that the Fat Cat spawned all these evil off-spring -- mind boggling.

Then there is Stuff Yer Face.

When I was there, the four and a half inch stromboli was the standard. The nine incher was considered excessive, only for the most hardy eaters. Eighteen inches -- unheard of. The fact that the nine incher is now the AVERAGE, the four and a half incher the KIDS SIZE, and the 18 incher the LARGE ---- nuff' said.

Another thing I loved about the episode -- Richman never goes into it -- take a close look at everyone he talks to there. One of the things I loved about Rutgers, and will always love, was just how ethnically diverse Rutgers was, how flexible ethnic & cultural identities could be there, if you chose to take advantage of the the situation. This tiny little college town taught me just how big the world was, and just how much else there was outside of where I grew up.

Decades later -- its probably even more diverse -- and an even better place to get that first foot in the door to a bigger more beautiful world.

Then there's the health issue.

In the time since I was there, Rutgers has gotten onto the map for several things;

- Football;
- Famous alums (Tony Soprano, Ally McBeal, Mario Batali, etc.)
- Junk food

While I was there, I put on 30 lbs from all that late night junk food at the grease trucks. I got so much sh#@ from my family for it, it was incredible. I eventually lost it.

But here is thing. All that weight I put on -- it put me in touch with a cultural & historic moment in both the history of American food and of Rutgers itself. I'm a product of all those Fat XXXXX sandwiches. Those high caloric nightmares that Adam Richman glorifies now -- I was part of that. In my early 20's, this was a source of shame. In my late 30's, its now a source of pride. Also -- the point that the Rutgers got onto the map of great places to eat in America was (in retrospect) a turning point in some many other ways.

Lets use the Fat XXXX as a kind of pivotal moment.


- Rutgers is the school in NJ nobody in NJ wants to go to because its too close to home.

- Bon Jovi is still a source of snide NJ bashing humor to people out of state.

- The only famous Rutgers alums are obscure academics (who gives a rats ass about Chaim Waxman and Milton Friedman).

- American food culture sucks ass.

Post-Fat XXXX

- Rutgers becomes a national football sensation.

- Bon Jovi becomes the stuff of legends;

- Rutgers alums invade popular culture;

- The Food channel & Travel channel begin trumpeting the glories of American regional cuisine.

Looking back on it -- the Freshman 20 (and the Sophomore/Junior/Senior year 10) might have been worth it in the end, since I got to be part of a moment in the cultural history of modern America.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Five Fingers After Six Months

Well, I've owned a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes for six months now. It was a decision that was both controversial, and amusing, among my circle of friends. Reactions included the following;

- Wow, gorilla shoes.
- You wear them in PUBLIC?

I also had a friend who viewed the following article;

...and asked if my wife had ghost-written it.

To all these critics, I share the following;

This shot was taken at a design museum in Milan -- the home of Vibram Corporation, the maker of the shoes. It was touted as another great example of modern Italian industrial design.

If the industrial design gurus of Milan think its great -- its good enough for me!

Now onto more practical concerns...

First -- despite my original plan to run in these shoes, it didn't work out. My calves aren't strong enough to handle running on pavement and concrete. I've been a flat foot runner for too many years. Converting to forefoot running would require additional classes and training.

Second -- these guys aren't that durable.

From Storehouse

Those holes are from me walking in them on rough pavement in the city. The bottoms of these things are strong. But the tops are not. Also, if smell-o-vision existed on blogs, you'd notice a fetid aroma coming from these things. That would be the sweat of my feet seeping into the skin of the shoes -- and coming out slowly. Still haven't figured out how to wash these guys properly.

Third -- they are still useful for other applications. I wear these for Krav Maga classes and other conditioning classes that I do. For that, these are perfect. They are very light, and they teach you in a very painful way how to do a proper front kick to the bladder. If you've done it wrong, there is no padding to protect your toes from being broken or strained.

I also found out that the Crossfit guys at the same school use these shoes a lot. They swear by them. I concur with them. Doing squats with these shoes, you are more sensitive to wear your heels and toes are, and it makes it easier to put weight on the heels instead of the toes or the balls of your feet.

Naturally -- everyone at the school asks about them. Instructors see my shoes, and chuckle.

Final Verdict -- don't expect miracles from these shoes. They are useful. But they won't solve everything. There has to be other things done in conjunction with these shoes.